By WALT DICKSON
The last time Joe Harwood played against Wanganui on Cook’s Garden in the ‘River City’ was in the inaugural Meads Cup final in 2006. He was captain of the Peter Russell-coached side and led his team to an upset victory.
As coach of Farriers Wairarapa-Bush he will again be hoping his players can beat the odds tomorrow.
Injuries continue to hurt Wairarapa-Bush with Harwood forced to re-think his playing squad for the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship opener.
A revelation against Manawatu Development last week, centre Robbie Anderson has been ruled out with a shoulder injury. Sidelined also is midfielder Armyn Sanders, joining props Gerard Fatotoi and Matt Kawana, and loose forward Tavita Isaac. Nick Olson looks to be gone for the season, as is already James Goodger.
Despite the setbacks Harwood is backing his chargers to come up trumps. Drawing comparisons to the team he led against Wanganui 11-years, he says while today’s squad perhaps doesn’t have the “depth of one or two positions” as then, overall skill level is the same.
“It’s about these guys having trust in their ability, being fearless . . . they have nothing to lose tomorrow, everything to gain,” Harwood says.
Although there are quite a few guys who will be getting their first run at Heartland level, Harwood says the squad is pretty well balanced.
“We’ve got a good mix of youth and experience . . . honestly, I just want the boys to believe in themselves,” he says.
“I think what you will see out of this side is that they will play more as a team, and less based around one or two individuals, a bit more united as a team.”
In order to win, they will need to be “aggressive” and “take their opportunities”.
“If we can bring the defensive line speed as we did last Friday, and bring that attitude, I think we should be competitive.
“But as we have seen last year, you can be down by 50-points against these guys if you don’t start well, so the first 20-minutes is vital.”
Coming in for the injured Anderson is Matt Macrae, and along with wings Nikora Ewe and Soli Malatai will be making their Hearland debuts. Other changes from the starting XV against Manawatu Development are Sam Monaghan at full-back and lock Lachie McFadzean.
As for Wanganui, it is far from plane sailing with the back-to-back Meads Cup defending champions entering a bit of an unknown. Of those players either selected or bracketed from the last time these teams met – Wanganui’s impressive 58-26 win in the 2016 Meads Cup semifinal – only ten remain, of which only four were in the starting lineup.
Kickoff is 2.30pm, after the curtain raiser between the two union’s Development XV’s.